When COVID-19 forced local businesses to close, it meant empty dining halls throughout Albany's downtown. Restaurants, once bustling, echoed empty until Linn County received the green light to enter phase one of Gov. Kate Brown's reopening plan earlier this month.
The designation means that restaurants can seat customers again — six feet apart. For many, that means fewer crowds given the size of their dining rooms.
But thanks to an idea from Mayor Sharon Konopa, business is flowing out into the street.
"After hearing from businesses over their concerns in complying with the state rules to reopen, it seemed challenging to space the tables apart while providing enough seating to make it feasible for the owner," said Konopa of the city's new sidewalk seating permit: the SEAT program.
"I thought of allowing restaurants to temporarily use the sidewalk or bordering public space for tables," she said.
The permits are free and expire on Oct. 31 of this year.
Calapooia BrewPub was the first business to receive one.
"It's about being able to serve our customers," said the BrewPub's Caitlin Prueitt.
With outdoor seating, it means people will not have to crowd around while waiting for a table and, once seated, the crowds inside the restaurant will be adhering to the state's mandate for social distancing.
The permits aren't reserved for just restaurants.
According to an announcement of the program from the city, the permits are meant for temporary use of the public sidewalk to place tables, chairs, sales racks, etc., in order to help facilitate businesses meeting social distancing protocols as they re-open/expand services available.
Restaurants that have moved from curbside service to tackling dine-in options again can seat people outside as long as the area complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Konopa, and they have a permit.
Alcohol, however, can still only be served inside the building that has already been cleared for a liquor license.
In addition to helping businesses comply with social distancing, the SEAT program may also help them recover from the COVID-19 slump. The spring weather hasn't quite lured the usual crowds to the city's downtown shopping area.
"We've for sure seen a decrease," Prueitt said. "Since we've opened back up it's been slower than it would have been before COVID."
Businesses interested in the SEAT program can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to fill out an application.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.